I was in London on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, a day when strangers in shops, hearing my American accent, offered their cell phones in case I wanted to call home. That evening, parties were cancelled. The next day, political events were called off. An American friend who lives in London received a condolence card from his neighbors, whom he'd never met -- and he was not alone. Overwhelmingly, the first British reaction to the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York was deeply sympathetic, and profoundly pro-American.
But so were the reactions of many others, across Europe and around the world. Several days after September 11, I left London and returned to Poland, where I was then living. That evening I attended a concert in a provincial city. In the foyer of the symphony hall, someone had put up a large American flag and surrounded it with candles. At the start of the concert, the conductor announced that there would be a change: Instead of the planned program, the orchestra would play only Mozart's Requiem, in honor of the 9/11 victims. These decisions were completely spontaneous and utterly apolitical: No one had reason to think that there would be even a single American in the audience. Within a few days, of course, a second reaction had set in. In London, a television studio audience attacked the former American ambassador on the air, accusing the United States of provoking international hatred and therefore bearing responsibility for the attacks. The New Statesman, an influential British left-wing magazine, ran a cover story, saying more or less the same thing. "American bond traders, you may say, are as innocent and undeserving of terror as Vietnamese or Iraqi peasants," the editors wrote. "Well, yes and no.... If America seems a greedy and overweening power, that is partly because its people have willed it. They preferred George Bush to both Al Gore and Ralph Nader." Elsewhere in Europe, then French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin had already urged the United States to be "reasonable in its response," and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder took it upon himself to remind the United States that "we are not at war."
Since then, that initial trickle of post-9/11 anti-Americanism has grown to a flood. A Pew Research Center poll released in March 2004, showed that 62 percent of French, 59 percent of Germans, and 34 percent of Britons had a "very" or "somewhat" unfavorable opinion of the United States. In January 2005, a poll published by the BBC showed that 54 percent of French, 64 percent of Germans, and 50 percent of Britons consider the United States a "negative influence" in the world. These numbers and others like them have spawned a mini-industry. Front-page news stories, television documentaries, and entire books have been devoted to the phenomenon of anti-Americanism, and there is no sign that interest is flagging. Earlier this year, Newsweek International once again put the subject on its cover, under the headline "America Leads ... But Is Anyone Following?"
Given all of the attention that has been lavished upon anti-Americanism in the past four years, however, it is surprising how little analysis has been applied to that first, spontaneous pro-American reaction to 9/11, and to pro-Americanism in general. After all, the population of some countries continues to show approval of the United States, of the American president, and of U.S. foreign policy, even now. Even the most damning evidence, such as the BBC poll quoted above, also reveals that some percentage of the population of even the most anti-American countries in Europe and Latin America remains pro-American. Some 38 percent of the French, 27 percent of Germans, 40 percent of Chinese, and 42 percent of Brazilians remain convinced that the United States exerts a "positive influence on the world." Who are they?
AMERICA'S BEST BEHAVIOR
Anecdotally, it isn't hard to come up with examples of famous pro-Americans, even on the generally anti-American continents of Europe and Latin America. There are political reformers such as Vaclav Havel, who has spoken of how the U.S. Declaration of Independence inspired his own country's founding fathers. There are economic reformers such as José Piñera, the man who created the Chilean pension system, who admire American economic liberty. There are thinkers, such as the Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya, who openly identify the United States with the spread of political freedom. At a recent event in his honor in Washington, Makiya publicly thanked the Americans who had helped his country defeat Saddam Hussein. (He received applause, which was made notably warmer by the palpable sense of relief: At least someone over there likes us.) All of these are people with very clear, liberal, democratic philosophies, people who either identify part of their ideology as somehow "American," or who are grateful for American support at some point in their countries' history.
There are also countries that contain not only individuals but whole groups of people with similar ideological or nostalgic attachments to the United States. I am thinking here of British Thatcherites -- from whom Prime Minister Tony Blair is in some sense descended -- and of former associates of the Polish Solidarity movement. Although Lady Thatcher (who was herself stridently pro-American) is no longer in office, her political heirs, and those who associate her with positive economic and political changes in Britain, are still likely to think well of the United States. Their influence is reflected in the fact that the British, on the whole, are more likely to think positively of the United States than other Europeans. Polish anticommunists, who still remember the support that President Ronald Reagan gave their movement in the 1980s, have the same impact in their country, which remains more pro-American than even the rest of Central Europe.